There have been times when everything but the kitchen sink was thrown on the regulatory agenda, sometimes to appease shareholders. Often, admitted Henshaw, no action was taken on those items. "The fact is, we weren't working on all those items," he said. "It was a façade. You couldn't count on us to accomplish those items." Of the new agenda, he said, "You can hold us accountable."
And for those critics who claim the agency is no longer committed to regulation and enforcement because the regulatory agenda has been pared down, Henshaw had two things to say. "The age of OSHA just being a regulatory agency is over. We will be a leader in occupational safety and health. By taking the leadership role, we can create a bigger impact on reducing injuries, illnesses and fatalities." And, he added, "We have had more production [of proposed and final standards] based on the 20 or so regulatory agenda items than you've ever seen on a bigger list."
In addition to proposed and final standards, the agency has released ergonomic guidelines for workers in nursing homes and retail grocery stores; published guidances for beryllium, anthrax and SARS exposure in the workplace; is working on standards for hexavalent chromium and crystalline silica; and is putting together guidance materials for 10 specific construction operations.
Hexavalent chromium, a known human carcinogen, is found in a number of operations, including electroplating, welding, and in the production of paints and pigments, stainless steel and colored glass. Workers involved in printing and textile dyeing and who work with wet Portland cement may also be exposed to hexavalent chromium. Last December, Henshaw announced OSHAwould developing a standard for hexavalent chromium. Soon afterwards, as a result of litigation, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the agency to complete a proposal by Oct. 4, 2004 and a final standard by Jan. 18, 2006. "We're in the process of conducting technologic and economic feasibility analyses and quantitative risk assessment to develop the regulatory text and supporting preamble," said Henshaw, adding, "We expect to meet the court deadline for the proposal."
The creation of a new OSHA standard usually takes years, so the agency is moving at what could be considered bureaucratic lightning speed on the hexavalent chromium standard.